As a lifelong smoker and somebody who has chosen not to try and give up the "evil weed" during my forty years of indulgence, even despite the overwhelming evidence that its bad for my health, I still get heartily sick and tired of the modern day propaganda, which suggests that we smokers are, to a man and woman, a massive financial drain on the NHS and its resources. Even as a moderate smoker, I clearly recognise that it is a generally filthy habit; and is not something I would recommend my worst enemy to take up, let alone anyone who wants to enjoy a comparatively long and healthy life.
All that said however, let's all be clear about this. According to some of the latest tax raising and health spending figures, the amount of revenue raised from tobacco sales far outweighs the amount of money spent on smoking related illnesses, with an estimated £12 billion being paid annually by the tobacco industry and smokers, whilst a maximum of £5 billion is said to be spent by the NHS, treating the resulting outcomes of the habit. It is also worth considering that even this highly questionable ballpark figure of a £5 billion cost to our health services is suspect, given that prior to the most recent study, the widely accepted cost of smoking to the UK was reported to be a much smaller figure of £1.7 billion. Either way, whichever of these amounts is a true reflection of the financial costs to the NHS, any suggestion that smokers somehow don't pay their way, or are some sort of albatross around the health service's neck, is simply untrue, a series of propaganda exercises and downright lies put out by a variety of un-elected and unaccountable groups explicitly to promote their own healthier lifestyle agendas. Interestingly, if these groups were to actually achieve their long term goals of turning the entire country into a no-smoking nation, where exactly would the NHS and the Treasury find the resulting £7 billion funding shortage each and every year that would be the inevitable outcome of their ideal lifestyle scenario?
Speaking from my own experience; and having a significant number of family members and friends who still smoke, it is noticeable just how seldom their visits to their local GP's or local hospitals are. Personally, even though I have smoked for forty years I can count on one hand just how many times I have consulted my GP and I've actually required hospital treatment twice in 54 years, only one of which was attributable to my lifestyle habit, the other being the result of a road traffic accident. Surprisingly perhaps, most smokers are intelligent enough to recognise the physical harm that they're doing to their own health; and accept that many of their ailments may indeed be self-inflicted, to the degree that they don't go rushing off to their GP, or the local A & E Department whenever they get the odd twinge of pain, or the occasional bad chest. Contrast that with the growing numbers of individuals, who attract, nor do they accept any personal responsibility for their morbid obesity, which costs the NHS increasing amounts of tax payers money, yet no-one has begun to suggest that the price of their burgers, chocolate bars or sweeties, should be specifically and increased in order to meet the burgeoning health costs of their poor lifestyle choices.
Similarly, the nation's other so-called bad habit, drinking alcohol, is steadily becoming a target for the UK's health watchdogs, some of whom have called for minimum pricing for a unit of alcohol, as well as tougher restrictions on the sale of intoxicants generally. Thanks to the Labour governments dramatic relaxation of licensing laws after their 1997 election victory, the sale of alcohol has become easier and much more widespread, with the result that alcohol fuelled violence, illness and poverty apparently becoming almost endemic in Britain's towns and cities. According to one study, as long ago as 2003-4, English Primary Care Trusts were spending nearly £220 million per year in supporting alcohol related treatments, while in 2005-6, an estimated 250,000 hospital admissions were as a result of alcohol related conditions, including mental and behavioural disorders, along with liver disease and the toxic effects of alcohol. The fact that Tony Blair and his New Labour Government were the architects of the UK's liberalisation of the country's licensing laws is worth noting, simply because the previously mentioned hospital admissions were said to have doubled in number between 1997 and 2006, the years when New Labour essentially changed the culture of drinking in Britain.
These same early alcohol studies also found that on average around one in sixteen of all hospital admissions in England were as the result of alcohol related disease or illness, which meant that an estimated 2 million hospital bed days were taken up in NHS wards, each and every year. At the same time, up to 35% of all A & E calls and attendances, as well the various ambulance service running costs, were thought to be alcohol related, something that may well continue through to the present day. In one year alone, 1997-1998, the first year of Tony Blair's Labour Government, an estimated 107,000 hospital bed days were said to have been taken up by patient's suffering from alcohol related liver disease, with each of these patients occupying a hospital bed for an average of 18 days. Additionally, it is reported that each GP in England sees on average around 360 heavy or problem drinkers throughout the year, with each of these patient's visiting their family doctor twice as often as other patients. However, it is perhaps worth pointing out that tax revenues raised through the sale of alcohol is estimated to be in the region of £15 billion for the year 2009-10, whilst the cost of alcohol related disease to the NHS each year is thought to be around £3 billion, suggesting that the bad habits of the few are actually subsidising the supposedly healthy lifestyles of the many, rather than the other way around.
Furthermore, according to some reports, the other great diseases that could threaten the entire future of the NHS are Diabetes and Dementia, neither of which are directly attributable to either smoking or drinking per se'. Type I Diabetes is not related to lifestyle choices, but is almost entirely attributed to genetic factors, whereas Type II Diabetes is thought to result from both genetic abnormalities and lifestyle choices, especially when associated with morbid obesity. According to the leading charity, Diabetes UK, an estimated 3.8 million people in the UK suffer from both forms of the disease, although over the next 20 years or so, this figure is expected to increase to 6.2 million people and cost the NHS around £17 billion per year, or 17% of its total current budget.
Worse still perhaps, as our population grows older, so instances of Dementia are increasing, causing an estimated cost to the NHS of £23 billion per year, although even this huge sum is thought to be just a fraction of the financial cost, much of which is borne by the sufferers family and friends. Presently there are estimated to be around 800,000 people suffering some form of dementia, ten times the number of people who reportedly die each year from smoking related diseases, although that particular figure, 81,000 per year, should be treated as slightly suspect, given that other unrelated causes may have caused the individual death. Some sources suggest that up to 25% of all hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from some form of dementia, many of whom stay in hospital far longer than actually necessary, often because no alternative accommodation or treatment is available for the sufferer. As a result of these enforced stays, or bed blocking, it has been suggested that many millions, if not billions of pounds is being wasted by the NHS, accommodating patients who actually require no direct medical treatment.
Although waste is not uncommon in the NHS, as it always has been, it is still interesting to note that between them smokers and drinkers actually make a valuable and positive contribution to the national exchequer, certainly way over any cost that they might levy on the NHS. In theory, if everyone stopped smoking and drinking tomorrow, the UK treasury would be nearly £20 billion a year worse off than it currently is, with that massive shortfall having to be made good by everyone else. So perhaps all of those people who so avidly proclaim the benefits of publicly isolating and humiliating the smokers and drinkers of the UK would be wise to consider such matters before imposing their own lifestyle choices on the rest of us. After all, if government can't tax the life out of us, then maybe it will be the turn of the burger munchers and sweetie gobblers next; and I'm not sure they'd be happy about that. :)